They left their homes in search of a better life and livelihood but met an untimely death on the railway tracks of Odisha when the Chennai-bound Coromandel Express crashed head on into the rear of a goods train in Balasore district.
Most of the 294 passengers declared dead so far were migrant workers travelling on the Howrah-Chennai Coromandel Express, the first three coaches of which were completely smashed in the Friday night crash, leading to the high death toll as these were unreserved coaches packed to the hilt by the poorest of the society. Many of them belong to remote places in West Bengal.
The rescue operations at the site near Bahanaga Bazar station have been going on for 40 hours now, complicated by the fact that it was a three-train collision – the derailed bogies of the Coromandel Express had knocked off the last four coaches of the Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express which was running on a parallel track.
The loud bang survivors of the Coromandel Express recall from the point of impact still rings in their ears as they count their dead, assess their own injuries and contemplate the toughest question before them – what now?
“We have to go for work and we don’t have choice,” says Mamun Akhtar who is recuperating at the Soro Hospital in Balasore.
News18 visited the hospital ward where injured passengers are being treated and many migrant workers there echoed Akhtar’s emotions.
Masud Rahman, 23, was on his way to join a new job at a hotel in Chennai. “I felt the train bogey topple, but don’t remember much beyond that. I can’t believe that I am alive. We are common people, poor people. We all have to go for livelihood. I have responsibilities,” he told News18.
Rahman was travelling with three others from Murshidabad who were also going to Chennai in search of jobs.
“We were all going there for a better life… There was a huge noise that day and someone pulled me. The next thing I remember is waking up at the hospital,” said a badly injured Shaun Alam.
Buses have been arranged by the Mamata Banerjee government to take them back to Bengal in batches. Almost every district in the state can count a casualty or a person missing in the tragedy. Some families are mourning multiple losses.
In West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district, a family lost three brothers who were travelling to Tamil Nadu in search of work. Haran Gayen (40), Nishikant Gayen (35) and Dibakar Gayen (32), residents of Charanikhali village in Basanti Uttar, lived in the southern state most of the year and did menial jobs there.
According to a PTI report, they came home a few days ago and were returning to Tamil Nadu onboard the Coromandel Express in search of work as farm labourers.
Official said a total of 110 people from the district were injured, 44 were missing and 16 have so far returned to their homes. Among those dead, six people are from Basanti block, including the three brothers, two from Kakdwip and one each from Joynagar-2, Baruipur, Canning-1 and Magrahat-1 blocks, they added.
Around 11 people from Nagarakata block in Jalpaiguri district are also said to be missing. They were part of a group of 14 who went together to Bengaluru in search of work. All of them were returning home for the first time on the Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Yesvantpur Express. One person from the group, identified as 30-year-old Sagar Kheria, died in the traffic while two were injured.